WINONA, Minn. — Senior leadership led the No. 15-ranked St. Thomas women’s basketball team past St. Mary’s University 71-58 to win the MIAC postseason title Saturday afternoon at the SMU Gym.
Seniors Taylor Young (16 points), Kelly Brandenburg (15 points) and Maggie Weiers (12 points) led the Tommies (24-4) to their third MIAC postseason title in as many years and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Words cannot describe how good it feels,” Brandenburg said. “They are a great team and it was a battle to the end, but coming out on top is definitely awesome. I can’t think of a better word than that.”
Nearly 500 enthusiastic fans packed the gym, and a blazing start from Cardinal forward Courtney Euerle, who had 22 points in the game, propelled St Mary’s to a quick 10-5 lead to start the game.
“They were getting the ball up the floor so quick, and into (Euerle) so quick,” coach Ruth Sinn said. “We really talked about slowing it down and keeping the ball in the perimeter’s hands rather than the post’s hands; and I thought we did a nice job of that.”
St. Thomas retaliated with the first of their two 7-0 runs in the half and never looked back, taking a 38-33 lead into the half.
“A big key to our offense is pushing the ball,” Brandenburg said. “We move it around and open the floor. We were able to do that and get some easy looks.”
The win gave St. Mary’s (24-3) its third loss of the season, two of which came at the hands of St. Thomas.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is that we are a very sound defensive team,” Sinn said. “I think we are third in the nation in points against. We do a really good job defensively. So when we get into these games in the postseason, we do well because we have the defense.”
Along with their stifling defense, the Tommies desire to win proved to be a crucial factor in shutting down St. Mary’s and clinching the title.
“This game was really important to us,” Young said. “A couple times me and (Brandenburg) looked at each other and said ‘this is not going to be our last game.’”
Despite winning the MIAC, Young said her team has yet to play its best ball of the year, and will look to do so in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“We know it’s not going to be an easy road,” Young said. “We haven’t peaked yet, but we have to stay focused and get it done.”
The team has battled injuries throughout their championship season, and Sinn said she finally feels like the Tommies are getting to where they want to be.
“Our team is an interesting team. We’ve gone through a lot of different changes, and we haven’t really had much time to gel,” Sinn said. “We’re starting to get that gel and that feeling of how we play off each other.”
The Tommies will continue their season next weekend in the NCAA tournament. Their opponent and location will be determined Monday during the selection show.
Scott Sikich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org